A Book Review
What is historical theology? According to Historical Theology for the Church, a new textbook from B&H Academic and edited by Jason G. Duesing and Nathan A. Finn, “historical theology is the study of the development of Christian doctrine and tradition from the Bible by the church and for the church” (6). In this book, an assorted slew of conservative scholars explain the shaping of church’s theology from the conclusion of the New Testament era to the present. Each chapter surveys the agreements and disagreements held by Christians throughout history to teach the significance of the doctrines for the church.
Chapters are divided into four chronological units covering the patristic, medieval, Reformation, and modern era. Doctrinal coverage within these units differ. For instance, Unit One has chapters on Jesus Christ, The Trinity, Scripture and Tradition, and Salvation. While Unit Two has a chapter on the Church, but not on Jesus Christ or the Trinity. One of the editors indicates in the introduction that not all planned contributors ended up writing chapters as planned.p (19). Perhaps this impacted the coverage within units. Yet each chapter stands on its own as a useful discussion of historical doctrine. Expect a broad survey with several excurses that delve deeper into significant issues and individuals followed by some contemporary application. There are also recommendations for further reading and discussion questions at the end of each chapter.
This book shows how God has worked throughout history in hearts and minds to achieve clarity on what the Bible teaches. What I particularly appreciated were the sympathetic explanations as to why some held to faulty theology. For instance, Gnosticism offered what seemed like an attractive theology of suffering to people actually suffering persecution for their faith (100). Sympathy is also shown towards the theological minds of the Middle Ages which offer their own fair share of useful thinking (135). What is true today has always been true: theology comes with a context. Debate and development occur out of necessity. The church benefits from sharpening the expression of its precious beliefs. And this book chronicles the progressive sharpening of these expressions.
This is a useful textbook for undergraduate students, seminarians, pastors, and anyone else interested in surveying historical theology. Southern Baptists are the target audience due to frequent reference to the Baptist Faith and Message, but anyone can appreciate and learn from this work. If you’re looking for a more systematic approach organized according to the major theological topics, you might look to Gregg Allison’s Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine. But for a fresh take on the core doctrines of historical theology, this is a wonderful contribution.
Special thanks to B&H Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not affect my thoughts in any way so far as I know.